A former US Special Forces soldier who murdered a farmer while serving in Afghanistan has been released on bail because of the risks he could face from Islamic extremists in prison.
Judge Oliver Jordan Schultz, whose name was previously withheld, found the prison to be “a very difficult if not dangerous environment,” a judge said Tuesday.
Details of the 41-year-old’s alleged war crime were first revealed at Downing Center Local Court in Sydney before he was released on bail.
Judge Jennifer Atkinson said Schultz was part of a patrol that was sent by helicopter to a village in southern Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province in May 2012.
A dog escorting an SAS patrol in a wheat field ran into a young Afghan, Abi Mohammed, who fell to the ground.
A former US Special Forces soldier who murdered a farmer while serving in Afghanistan has been released on bail because of the risks he could face from Muslim extremists in prison. Judge Oliver Schultz (above) found the prison to be a “very difficult, if not dangerous, environment”
The crown claims that Abu Muhammad was lying on his back with his hands and knees raised, remaining calm and offering no resistance to the Australians.
Schulz allegedly had a conversation with other patrol personnel, then turned toward Juno Muhammad and shot him three times. The incident was allegedly captured on a helmet camera.
Ms Atkinson said Abi Mohammed, who was about 25 to 26 and carrying a rosary, was said to have limped after the first shot and died in the wheat field.
Abu Muhammad’s father filed a complaint with the Australian Defense Forces, saying that his son is disabled, not a member of the Taliban and is not participating in hostilities.
It is believed that his son was shot in the head and stabbed in the neck and heart.
Atkinson said that while the case against Schulz appears “fairly strong”, there were “extraordinary circumstances” which meant bail had to be granted.
It said Schulz would likely not face trial before 2025 and any time spent in custody would be “difficult, difficult and dangerous”.
Ms Atkinson referred to the attack on ex-soldier Michael O’Keefe by jihadist Burhan Hreci when the couple were involved in a cell at the Mid North Coast Correctional Facility in April 2016.
Details of the 41-year-old’s alleged war crime were released on Tuesday before he was released on bail. The helmet-wearing footage examined by Four Corners (above) purportedly shows Schulz shooting dead farmer Abi Mohamed in a wheat field.
Hiraichi doused Mr O’Keefe and then carved “e4e” – an eye for an eye – into his forehead, telling police the ex-soldier had blasphemed the Prophet Muhammad.
Atkinson said Schultz would find the prison “a very difficult, if not dangerous environment”.
She noted that the Taliban is now in power in Afghanistan and that continued external conflicts could affect the behavior of radicalized prisoners in New South Wales prisons.
“There may be some people who are being held there who may take a position opposite to what is said to be the behavior of the accused,” Atkinson said.
It further noted that Schulz had no criminal record as well as accepting submissions that he was not a threat to Australia or any Australian citizen.
“In my view, it’s broader than that,” Atkinson said. “This occurred outside of Australia in a situation where the Australian Defense Force was deployed.”
Atkinson was ordered to pay $200,000 to an acceptable person to secure Schulz’s bail. He must report to the police daily, surrender his passport and not leave Australia.
Schulz has no contact with any former comrades he served with in Afghanistan between February and July 2012 or any witnesses in the case against him.
In granting Schulz bail, Judge Jennifer Atkinson referred to an attack on former soldier Michael O’Keefe by jihadi Burhan Hreci (above) when the couple shared a cell at the Mid-North Coast Correctional Facility in April 2016.
He must not leave his home between 10pm and 5am and must present himself at his door between those hours if requested by the authorities.
Atkinson withheld Schulz’s name on Monday but rescinded the order on Tuesday and he had previously been identified when he was arrested.
She issued a non-disclosure order about Schulz’s whereabouts for fear of reprisal attacks.
“These risks may still be very real for the defendants in this matter,” Atkinson said. “The security issues are very real.”
Schulz, who appeared in court via audio and video link, was arrested by Australian Federal Police on March 20 and spent eight days in custody.
On Monday, his attorney, Philip Bolten, said Schulz faced serious risks to his personal safety and had to be separated from his other colleagues.
“Wherever this man is going to be caught in prison, he will likely have to mix with people in prison who sympathize with the Taliban or other radical Islamic groups,” said Mr. Bolten.
Burhan Harichi doused Michael O’Keeffe and then scribbled “e4e” – an eye for an eye – into his forehead, telling police the ex-soldier had blasphemed the Prophet Muhammad. O’Keefe’s injuries are filmed
This is the case of a former army officer who was in prison for this crime. He is very vulnerable where he is at the moment.
Abi Mohammed’s death was reported by ABC’s Four Corners program in March 2020. After the broadcast, then-Defense Secretary Linda Reynolds referred the matter to AFP.
Schulze was suspended from duty and later dismissed from the ADF on medical grounds. As part of the AFP investigation, officers searched his home in May 2022.
This is the first time that a current or former member of the Australian Defense Force has faced a war crime charge of murder under domestic law.
Mr. Bolten urged the court to delete Schulz’s name and place of residence, saying such information could pose a danger if it was disclosed publicly, especially since the Taliban is now the legitimate government in Afghanistan.
“There is a government representative who has a stake in what he did in his country and (there are) literally hundreds if not thousands of people being held that will be brought against him for what he did.”
Ms. Atkinson has heard that defense personnel need comprehensive protection of their identities during and after their service.
Mr Bolten said his client remained in the country without fleeing despite knowing he had been under investigation for years and that up to $1 million could be offered as surety to secure a court appearance.
Schulz will also find it difficult to consult with attorneys behind bars, given the security measures in place in relation to case-related materials that, if disclosed, could cause national security issues, the court was told.
Bail was opposed by King’s attorney general Sean Flood, saying there was no evidence the man would be in danger in prison.
“Corrective services are putting in place appropriate mechanisms to ensure his safety,” said Mr. Flood.
The public prosecutor said that the possibility of Schultz fleeing the country also remained because there was a difference between the investigation where charges were only possible and his arrest for this type of crime.
“There is clearly a strong urge to flee once a person has been charged with such a serious crime which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.”
Schulz’s case will be heard at Downing Center Local Court on May 16.